early signs of tooth decay

Did you know that the CDC calls tooth decay “one of the greatest unmet health treatment needs?” Around 1 in 4 U.S. adults between the ages of 20 to 64 have at least one cavity—whether they know it or not.

Though it always starts with little warning, tooth decay can snowball into a major oral issue, causing infections, deterioration, and long-term pain. But is there a way to catch early signs of tooth decay before they grow more severe?

Fortunately, there are plenty of red flags when it comes to cavities. Here’s a simple tooth decay guide to help you watch out for common warning signs.

Sensitivity to Heat and Cold

Tooth sensitivity can occur when your tooth enamel, or the hard protective layer on the surface of your teeth, begins to wear down.

When this happens, it exposes your tooth’s softer dentin. The dentin is the “meat” of the tooth, and it’s more sensitive to extreme heat and cold. That’s why tooth sensitivity is also called “dentin hypersensitivity.”

In addition, if you’ve begun to develop a cavity, it might start out as a small pit in your teeth. If this pit exposes the interior nerves in your tooth, the tooth might grow more sensitive to temperature changes as well.

As a result of either condition, you may start to experience sensitivity or even pain when you eat or drink hot or cold foods.

Bleeding or Swollen Gums

If your cavity develops close to the gum line, it can impact both your teeth and your gums. When this happens, the gums may be the first to show any obvious sign of trouble. These tooth decay signs often come in the form of bleeding or swollen gums.

You’re more likely to notice gum inflammation, bleeding, or soreness when you brush or floss your teeth. These symptoms often go hand in hand with gum disease (gingivitis), and they’re especially common in young children.

If you notice these gum issues, whether or not you’re in pain, it’s important to visit a Florida dentist as soon as you can.

Bad Breath or a Foul Taste in Your Mouth

Bad breath, or halitosis, isn’t always a sign of tooth decay. It can be a sign of a range of health conditions based on the smell, including GERD or tonsillitis.

However, bad breath is most often a sign of poor oral hygiene. When too much bacteria builds up in the mouth, it can affect the smell of your breath and even the taste in your mouth. Sometimes, sticking to a regular brushing and flossing schedule can be enough to make this condition go away.

If you experience bad breath even when you’re brushing and flossing as needed, on the other hand, it’s a sign that something more is going on in your mouth. You’re more likely to have a high amount of bacteria in your mouth when that bacteria has something to feed on—such as a decaying tooth. Acting fast can help you reverse any damage and prevent more decay.

Discoloration or Staining

In some cases, tooth decay can lead to discoloration or staining on the surface of your tooth. These stains can appear in different colors. They’re more likely to start out as a white spot, but they may become brown and dark as decay eats away at your tooth.

Often, discolored spots will be softer than the surrounding areas of your tooth. This happens because the hard enamel surface has worn away.

Holes or Pitting

If you notice any pitting or holes on the surface of your tooth, it may be a sign of an untreated cavity.

In some cases, you may be able to look in the mirror and see the pitting in your tooth. In other cases, you might notice it by running your tongue over the tooth’s surface.


Last, but not least, pain and toothaches are major signs that something has gone wrong in your mouth.

Tooth pain often starts out as pain while biting. This can happen when you’re putting pressure on an untreated cavity in your mouth.

In other cases, you may experience a chronic toothache that pains you even when you aren’t eating. This tends to be a low, dull pain, but it can become an annoying sensation that makes it hard to focus on work or to sleep at night. This pain will often worsen over time as your tooth decay worsens, so it’s important to make an appointment with a dentist to treat the issue before it snowballs.

How Do Dentists Treat Early Signs of Tooth Decay?

Fortunately, if you’re experiencing any of the symptoms we’ve mentioned above, a trip to the dentist’s office can take care of the issue fast.

Most often, your dentist will recommend fillings to treat your tooth decay. Once your dentist has removed the decay, they’ll fill the existing hole in your tooth to guard against further damage. Most modern fillings—especially composite fillings, the most popular option—will last for years with proper care.

However, if you’re looking at severe oral issues, your dentist may have different tooth decay advice. They may recommend bridges, crowns, veneers, dental implants, or other treatment options. They may also be able to recommend special products for cleaning your teeth, such as prescription toothpaste or a specialized fluoride treatment.

Schedule Your Next Appointment Today

Have you been putting off your regular check-up or avoiding an appointment to deal with the symptoms we’ve mentioned above? If so, now is the time to get back on track. Regular check-ups ensure that your dentist has a chance to catch the subtle early signs of tooth decay before you’re dealing with severe infection or pain.

Don’t wait for your symptoms to go away! If you’re worried about your oral health, contact our team today to protect your teeth.